Science Po Paris: repeated crises

To cry "Vicherat resignation" in front of Sciences Po Paris on December 7, 2023 (Dimitar DILKOFF)

“Vicherat resignation” posters in front of Sciences Po Paris on December 7, 2023 (Dimitar DILKOFF)

Sciences Po Paris is once again plunged into turmoil: the elite school is facing two crises at the same time with the resignation of its director referred to court in a case of domestic violence and the controversy following a pro-Palestinian mobilization.

“The problem at Sciences Po is that we go from crisis to crisis,” sums up one of his teachers who wished to remain anonymous for AFP.

The situation at the prestigious institution was raised in the Council of Ministers on Wednesday morning, where the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, condemned the “unspeakable and totally intolerable” remarks reported during a pro-Palestinian mobilization a day earlier at Sciences Po. Paris.

The Union of Jewish Students of France, in fact, confirmed that young people belonging to that association were “judged as Jews and Zionists”.

“University institutions are autonomous, but that autonomy in no way justifies even the slightest beginning of separatism,” said government spokeswoman Prisca Thevenot, quoting the head of state's statement.

This version is strongly disputed by the Palestinian committee of Sciences Po. In a press release in French and English, he condemned “baseless accusations of anti-Semitism by the extreme right.”

– Appearance in autumn –

As is often the case with Sciences Po Paris, the student polemic spilled over into the political and media sphere.

Sylvain Maillard, head of Renaissance MPs, called on “the minister (of higher education Sylvie Retailleau) to take matters into her own hands”, on Wednesday morning on Radio J, while Sébastien Chenu, vice-president of the RN, asked that the management of the “plier baggage”, on CNews/Europe1.

Also Wednesday morning, the principal, Mathias Vicherat, took his ex-partner to court in a domestic violence case, announcing his resignation in a message to the education community.

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“Summons to appear before the criminal court have been issued to Mr. Vicherat and Ms. Sansal-Bonnefont due to mutual violence within the couple,” the Paris prosecutor's office confirmed to AFP.

The ex-partners are charged specifically with “violence towards the spouse that led to the inability to work for more than eight days,” the state prosecutor said.

They will appear in the fall, claims a source close to the case.

Mathias Vicherat, 45, and his ex-partner Anissa Bonnefont accused each other of domestic violence and were taken into police custody on December 3 before being released the next day. The prosecutor's office in Paris ordered a preliminary investigation.

The two former partners did not press charges. The Paris prosecutor's office reminded “that the burden of initiating the procedure rests exclusively with the public prosecutor”.

– Failures and scandals –

In his message on Wednesday, Mr Vicherat wrote that he “always disputes the allegations of violence that have been formulated and aired against (him)”.

After allegations of domestic violence in December, Mathias Vicherat proposed his resignation from the board, before returning in late January to boos from students.

Pending the appointment of a new management team, an “interim board” will be installed “in the coming days,” the Sciences Po Paris board said.

“In constant contact with its stakeholders, the Ministry will continue to support the organization in order to enable its proper functioning, ensuring in particular the cheerfulness of its discussions and the fight against anti-Semitism and all forms of discrimination,” said the minister. , Sylvie Retailleau, in a statement sent to reporters.

Mathias Vicherat “represents Sciences Po, and with what he has done, he is no longer exemplary”, believes Félix Mesonnier, a union and politically engaged student of Sciences Po.

Sciences Po Paris has accumulated failures and scandals around its leaders for about ten years without its academic prestige being immediately damaged.

Mr. Vicherat succeeded in November 2021 at the head of the school Frédéric Mion, who was forced to resign in February of that year for covering up suspicions of incest directed at the political scientist Olivier Duhamel, who was then president of the National Foundation for Political Science. (FNSP).

Frédéric Mion himself succeeded Richard Descoings, head of Sciences Po from 1996 to 2012, who thoroughly modernized the institution founded in 1872. Richard Descoings died accidentally in a hotel room in New York.

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